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Taste of the South....


When you walk into A Southern Season in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, your senses tell you that you’re somewhere very special. Exuding southern hospitality, this is a store that quickly becomes dear to the hearts and stomachs of any visiting Southerners (or Southerners at heart).

Originally opened as an 800-square-foot coffee roastery back in 1975, A Southern Season has become a huge gourmet specialty-foods emporium. At 59,000 square feet, it’s one of the largest stores of its kind in the nation. Of course, all of the expected Southern standards are available; but, there are also many other treats to tempt hungry visitors (and lots of regulars from the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area, also known as the “Research Triangle”).

After graduating from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, A Southern Season’s founder, Michael Barefoot, saw a need for this type of store, which caters to the diverse university and business culture of the Triangle. “Julia Child had already begun transforming the way Americans thought and felt about their food, but none of our stores reflected that change,” he recalls. “I knew what I needed to reach in net sales each day to pay the bills and wouldn’t close until I reached that figure. Though my posted hours were nine to nine, there were some nights I stayed open past midnight.” Barefoot, who had grown up on a small North Carolina farm, credits his intense love of food helped with the long hours.

The store moved to a larger location in 1978 and was expanded to 28,000 square feet by 1992. In 2003, A Southern Season opened its flagship store at University Mall, which also includes the 300-seat Weathervane restaurant that features seasonal cuisine as well as many products from the store. Nearby, another huge facility handles A Southern Season’s fast-growing mail order, e-commerce, and wholesale businesses. More than 1.5 million catalogs are sent out nationwide annually. Today, A Southern Season has more than 300 employees and also operates two boutiques at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

The flagship Chapel Hill store is divided into ten distinct areas; candy; coffees and tea; wine; gourmet groceries; housewares; gifts; cheese; bakery; take-out and catering ; and Weathervane. The sprawling wine department has more than 2,000 selections including some excellent North Carolina varieties, while the cheese department typically has more than 320 tasty options including several that are locally-produced.

The staff in each area of the store prides itself on knowledge, Southern hospitality, and the ability to help visiting foodies find everything they need--as well as some things they didn’t know they needed. There’s a definite Southern slant to the store’s products. Ever-popular possibilities include pimento cheese straws, stone-ground grits, pecan pralines, pecan praline pound cake, moonshine cordials, and much more. White Chicken Chili, Beaufort Shrimp, Almond Chicken Salad (also a very popular item at Weathervane), and cupcakes from the bakery are popular take-out and catering choices.

The gourmet offerings come from near and far. “Michael Barefoot and his leadership team have set the gold standard for the great American gourmet shopping experience,“ says Page Skelton, founder and president of Chapel Hill-based Cackalacky Classic Condiment Company. “When folks travel to London, they almost always go shopping at Harrods. When folks visit Chapel Hill, they go shopping at A Southern Season. It’s the Harrods of the South--and we are thrilled to be a part of their shopping experience. The store is filled with lots of ‘mom & pop’ gourmet items that are made by ordinary folks just like me who have a passion for food.”

Weathervane, the store's restaurant, is most definitely a hub, with year-round patio dining, fountains, and a requisite weathervane. Long-time favorites in the bustling space include Shrimp and Grits, a creative Fried Green Tomato BLT, and White Chocolate Banana Bread Pudding with Crème Anglaise. There’s an excellent wine list and many unique beers on draft, including several revolving regional choices.

Located in a sleek space overlooking the wine department, the cooking school (Culinary Lessons at A Southern Season--CLASS) features frequent food- and wine-oriented offerings, including regular classes run by well-known local, regional, national, and international chefs. A recent class from Durham chef Amy Tornquist (Nasher Museum Café and El Diablo) was a “Taste of the Triangle”, featuring locally produced queso fresco and tortillas. Past celebrity-chef teachers have included: Andrea Reusing of Chapel Hill’s acclaimed Lantern; Ben and Karen Barker of nearby Magnolia Grill in Durham; Martin Yan; John Ash; Patricia Wells; and Iron Chef Morimoto.

The company's web site www.southernseason.com, online since 1997, features current catalog products as well as store specials, cafe menus, a monthly newsletter, and a monthly calendar of in-store events and cooking classes.

To truly tempt all of your senses, visit the flagship store and find out for yourself just why A Southern Season is such a tasty success story.

A Southern Season
University Mall
15/501 @ Estes Drive
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
(919) 929-7133